The following story was written by Suzy DeFrancis, Chief Public Affairs Officer of the American Red Cross. Suzy, whose mother served as a Red Cross volunteer during World War II, began work with the Red Cross on August 20, 2019. In this senior position she will be integrating the communications, government affairs and public outreach functions of the organization.
Suzy and Mark W. Everson traveled to flood-ravaged Findlay and Ottawa, Ohio, on Friday, August 24, and she provides the following commentary:
American Red Cross president Mark Everson congratulates Putnam County Chapter Executive Vice President Sarah Hermiller on his visit to the American Red Cross Shelter at the Trinity United Methodist Church in Findlay, Ohio.
Sandra Smith surveys the wreckage of her home from the worst flood in Findlay, Ohio, since 1913. There is mud everywhere, the carpet squishes beneath your feet, the refrigerator is turned over, cupboards and floor boards recently installed have started to warp. There is an oppressive odor of mold, mildew and river water.
"I can't bring my husband back to the house," Sandy says, "he can't breathe in this." Sandy's husband Jesse has cancer, and she is worried about him and her son who lost days at work to help her. Sandy is a strong woman, but tears overflow as she realizes that now in her sixties, she has lost almost everything. Red Cross President Mark W. Everson puts his arm around her and tells her, "one day at a time."
"Obviously, when you lose everything, and some have ... there's a lot of coping that takes place," said Everson on his first trip to a disaster area since becoming President and CEO of the Red Cross. "That's why we have trained staff that will help people with the immediate stages of what will be a long journey."
Sandy is one of thousands of families affected by severe flooding in nine Ohio counties, and there are thousands more that have been affected this summer in states such as Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa and Missouri.
Everson points out that while there has not been an event on the scale of Katrina in the last two years, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of significant floods and wild fires.
"Two years ago, we had nine such incidents in the spring and summer. Last year we had 32. Just since April, we have already had 42 incidents," says Everson. "It's a challenge for the Red Cross to respond to so many disasters over such a large area of the U.S., and the need for financial support from the public is great."
"Floods don't always get as much media attention as hurricanes, but the victims suffer just as much," says Michael Carroll, a 29-year veteran of the Red Cross who is CEO of the American Red Cross of Greater Columbus and a Special Advisor to Everson.
Carroll drives Everson through the disaster-affected areas of Findlay and Ottawa, Ohio, and takes him to the Disaster Relief Operation (DRO) Headquarters, where Red Crossers are supporting the relief efforts of eight different Red Cross chapters, and coordinating more than 300 Red Cross workers who have come from across Ohio and the nation to help. Everson thanks Red Cross volunteers and employees for their outstanding efforts and moves on to the Red Cross shelter in Findlay.
Lunch at the shelter is burgers and brats that have been donated by a local organization cooking outside on grills. The smell of good food raises everyone's spirits. Everson grabs a plate and sits down with a man who says he's grateful to have a place to lay his head at night. The room Jeffrey rents has been flooded. He works during the day and goes home to clean before he comes back to the Red Cross shelter for food and rest. Everson is impressed with his perseverance, a trait shared by many shelter residents in Findlay.
After seeing the Red Cross relief operation throughout Findlay and Ottawa, Everson comments on the dedication of Red Cross volunteers and staff. Carroll concurs and gives credit to two local Chapter executives who have literally weathered the storm now for the past week: Judy Cantwell, Executive Director of the Hancock County Chapter; and Sarah Hermiller, Executive Director of the Putnam County Chapter. He also thanks Fran O'Shaughnessy, the DRO Director, and her team, all of whom are providing excellent support to the affected chapters.
Everson boards the plane bound for Washington, D.C., having seen first-hand how Red Crossers come together to provide relief to the victims of disaster.
All American Red Cross disaster assistance is free, made possible by voluntary donations of time and money from the American people. You can help the victims of thousands of disasters across the country each year by making a financial gift to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, which enables the Red Cross to provide shelter, food, counseling and other assistance to victims of disaster. The American Red Cross honors donor intent. If you wish to designate your donation to a specific disaster, please do so at the time of your donation. Call 1-800-REDCROSS or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Contributions to the Disaster Relief Fund may be sent to your local American Red Cross chapter or to the American Red Cross, P. O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013. Internet users can make a secure online contribution by visiting www.redcross.org.